Continuing Tales

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 7 of 27

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On waking the next day, Hermione initially forgot where she was. Her limbs moved before she opened her eyes and ran leisurely over the rich velvets and silks surrounding her. She could not remember a time recently when she had slept better. It was only as her foggy mind cleared that she recalled being invited to sleep in Malfoy Manor. Her hand came up to rub over her closed eyelids, partly to wake her up, partly in confused disbelief. How had Lucius Malfoy tolerated having her sleep under his roof?

There was a knock at her door. She tensed in surprise and pulled the covers tight up under her chin before calling hesitantly, "Come in." The door opened and Grimble shuffled in with a tray, his head resolutely lowered, muttering indistinctly as usual. They tray contained tea and biscuits. The elf placed it on the bedside table.

"Breakfast is served in the kitchen. Half an hour." He turned his back and left.

"Thank you, Grimble," Hermione managed to call after his retreating form. The door shut with a resounding thud. She could not help a little chuckle at his predictability. Still, neither could she dispute the thoughtfulness which had accompanied the gesture. She knew he would only have been doing as requested by Malfoy.

Hermione got up and pulled back the curtains at the high windows. The pale light of late dawn apologetically inched its way into the darkness around her. She looked over the gardens, recalling the walk she had taken there with Malfoy the day before. She could just see the little walled garden from the window. A smile formed on her lips.

After showering and dressing, she made her way tentatively downstairs. Would Malfoy join her for breakfast? She could not imagine him eating in the kitchen - the servants' area. On entering the vast room, it seemed she was right. The table was laid only for one and there was no sign of the house's owner. This time, Hermione acknowledged her disappointment.

As she ate, Hermione looked about. It was a magnificent room but something was missing. It lacked vitality and humanity. The large coppers and pots that adorned the beams and shelves seemed to be there merely under sufferance. Hermione doubted that the Malfoys would have ever allowed their guests into a kitchen, but she could well imagine a party here now, with the room thronging with conversation and life. She bent her head to her cereal again.

There was a noise in the doorway. Expecting to see Grimble, she glanced up only to find Malfoy standing there, his tall frame silhouetted in the doorway.

"Hello," she smiled instinctively and naturally.

"I trust you slept well?" His words came smoothly.

"Very well. Thank you so much. I haven't had such a good night's sleep for the longest time."

"Hmm." It seemed to come as no surprise to him. The reminder of his arrogant approach to all aspects of life made her smirk. He noticed.

"What is it, Miss Granger?"


"You seem to be finding something amusing. Pray enlighten me as to what."

She was not sure what to say and shuffled around her brain trying to find a reason. She spoke without thinking fully. "I thought you were Grimble. It's good to see you, that's all."

Hermione froze. She heard the words only after they had already been placed in the air between them from where they could no longer be removed. Her face immediately burned with clear embarrassment. She dared not look up at him. Hermione gripped her spoon and set about eating the few remaining cornflakes in her bowl with unnecessary conviction and concentration.

Lucius Malfoy stared down at her. Was he affronted that the Muggle-born had expressed a liking for his company? He looked at the woman sitting in his kitchen.

Her hair was falling down around her but only partially masked the flush which had rapidly spread over her smooth skin. She was staring intently into the bowl. He knew she had not intended to say what she had.

But instead of anger, he felt merely a warm glow easing the tension which was usually present in his chest. He exhaled deeply.

Hermione had finished her cereal. She pushed her chair back quickly with a scrape and moved to the sink, desperate to get out of the situation she had made for herself.

Malfoy stepped forward to take her bowl from her. She had nearly reached the sink and leaned forward to place the bowl down. He reached for it at the same time and all at once found himself with his hand gripping not only the bowl but the woman's fingers.

Hermione looked down at the point of contact. It was as if her hand was suddenly a far larger and more significant part of her body. She could focus only on it and the firm, warm fingers which encompassed it. She took in every detail, as if his was the first hand she had ever laid eyes on. It was strong and large, his fingers smooth, with only a few fine hairs on the back, and ending in short, neat nails. He did not remove it.

Lucius Malfoy too was staring down. Under his touch was a small, tender hand, but a hand which contained such strength, such power. Had he ever before even touched a Mudblood? He had not. Strange, it felt the same as touching the noblest Pureblood. The warmth he had felt in his body earlier now seemed to be coursing through his limbs from their point of contact.

This felt better than touching a Pureblood.

Hermione needed to breathe. They seemed to have been standing there for minutes, silently, staring at their hands. Her mind snapped to and she mumbled softly, "Sorry."

Her words pulled Malfoy back and he said, almost as low, "Allow me."

With that, Hermione moved her hand out from under his and allowed him to take hold of the bowl. She stepped back quickly, almost stumbling. "Thank you."

And not looking at him again, Hermione rushed out of the kitchen and up to the library.

Lucius Malfoy stayed at the sink for some time after her departure.

In the next few days Hermione did not see so much of Malfoy. She admitted to herself that this may well not have been deliberate on his part but rather hers. The incident in the kitchen had disturbed her.

She was happy to admit that his conversation and personality interested her, that she enjoyed trying to get him to talk, to confront his prejudices, but he was still Lucius Malfoy, Pureblood bigot, Death Eater.

In the absence of anyone else to converse with, she had enjoyed his company as a break from her work. That was all.

That was all.

So why could she still feel his fingers resting over hers? Why had the smooth strength they contained remained in her body? Why was it she could not shake the image of his hand on hers from her mind?

Hermione threw herself into her work, determined to get through it as soon as possible.

For his part, Lucius Malfoy did not go out of his way to avoid the Muggle-born, but he noticed her reluctance to engage him in conversation. On the occasions he suggested tea, she had politely declined, mumbling about being in the middle of a particularly tricky text.

He had grown used to her conversation, to her company.

The situation was frustrating.

It had started with the incident in the kitchen. At the time, he had tried to dismiss the significance of it, had thought he had. But when he touched her hand, her fingers had been soft and tender but remarkably assured. He looked down at his own hand, picturing it resting atop her small fingers.

Soft and tender.

And warm.

He had been without human contact for so long.

Soft and tender and warm.

Lucius Malfoy drew himself up, crossed to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a whisky. He took out his wand and waved it towards a cabinet. The soothing tones of Schubert's String Quintet floated into the room. He breathed deeply, took a sip of his whisky and went to sit down. Picking up his book, he opened it and frowned at the words in concentration, determined to expunge the sight and feel of the Granger woman from his mind.

Over a week had passed since Hermione had stayed the night and eaten breakfast in his kitchen. She had been working like a demon and had by now got through three of the high bookcases that stood in the room. There were still half a dozen to go. And then there were the bookshelves lining the walls. She had catalogued several texts she found on her way, some requiring careful reading and documenting. What she had done so far seemed quite an achievement, but when she looked back into the room, she realised that she still had much of the mountain left to climb.

Hermione convinced herself that she had got over the incident in the kitchen, once again telling herself that it was simply due to the solitude of her task in the house. Despite not seeing Malfoy as much, the tense atmosphere which had pervaded the entire house when she had first arrived was largely dispersed. She did indeed enjoy her job and each day was anticipated with eagerness. There was no doubting her contentment and interest in her surroundings.

Over the next few days she further relaxed her self-imposed exile from Malfoy.

It had been a foolish reaction.

She did not wish the tension which had tainted the house on her arrival to spread miserably through Malfoy Manor again. She began greeting him more warmly, occasionally taking tea once more. On those occasions their conversation, although never lengthy, was compelling and informative. Their minds seemed to operate on a similar level. They would discuss magical theory, history, the state of the Ministry, the latest books they had read. Both seemed keen to steer the conversation clear of personal matters for now, unlike early on. Hermione was happy with this.

She felt safer that way. Not from Malfoy but from herself.

Time eased her mind and she worked assiduously in the library but would often break her routine with walks in the grounds. While in the library, Grimble frequently but silently would now bring her refreshments.

Malfoy himself occasionally came into the library, asking her about her progress, sometimes suggesting something helpful. Initially, it had surprised her. Despite her intentions, and what she had assumed would be his, she and Malfoy still seemed to be spending time together. But there were no repeats of the moment of intimacy between them in the kitchen, and Hermione convinced herself that she had read far more into it than was necessary. He was still the haughty, disdainful Pureblood. His arrogant, self-assured intellectualism was at once interesting and strangely comforting. It was what she expected.

There were times when he would linger in the library, reading, taking notes from various texts. Hermione was always bold enough to ask what he was doing but rarely got a complete answer. It was enough. She was happy to have his companionable silence and occasional discourse. They both seemed completely relaxed in each other's company.

When absorbed in her work, she did not notice the blond man's eyes rising from his book and looking across at her, studying her face or her hands.

Several weeks after first arriving at the Manor, Hermione one day found herself in her usual place, working alone.

She had climbed a ladder to reach the books she was studying and was teetering precariously to reach the furthest volumes. She brought them down five at a time and placed them on the table she had set aside for her work. As she reached for one, she noticed a large, beautifully bound book protruding further out than the others. It immediately intrigued her and she leaned in to grasp it, taking it down carefully, a sense of wonder gripping her before she had even realised what it was. It was too heavy to look at standing atop a wobbly ladder, so she brought it down and placed it on the table.

It was a large book, almost a foot long and nearly as broad. It was at least three inches thick, bound in thick, dark red leather, into which was embossed gilded text. An intricate pattern of interweaving vines chased around the edge. The writing was clearly several hundred years old and was in a script that Hermione could hardly decipher. She peered at it keenly and was eventually able to make out the words: 'The Book of Desire'.

She took a step back. She could not detect any dark forces emanating from the book, but it disturbed her nonetheless. There was a power within which transmitted to her in a way she was unused to, but she somehow knew it was tapping into her deepest fears and needs.

As she reached to open it, Hermione noticed her fingers trembling uncontrollably. She swallowed hard and clenched her fist, controlling her nerves. Slowly, she pulled back the heavy cover. Inside was more of the same script, again with the words 'The Book of Desire' inscribed across the thick parchment. She turned several more pages. Her eyes were met by the most beautiful illuminated text. Gilded letters and vivid ornate words filled the left hand page. She thought it looked much like a medieval religious text, but when Hermione glanced at the illustration adorning the opposing page, she realised that she could not be further from the truth. Her breath hitched a tingling heat crept over her skin. She was looking at an image of sheer erotic delight.

The image depicted two people, a man and a woman, closely entwined in an act of sexual union. They were engaged in a passionate kiss, their limbs encircling the others, lying on what seemed to be a carpet of flowers. But there was nothing lascivious or pornographic about the image. It was one of the most beautiful and pure pictures Hermione had ever seen. She turned to the next page. A similar sight met her. This time the couple was standing beside a stream, still naked, still joined in sexual union. Hermione turned her attention to the text. It detailed the acts depicted, but in the most exquisitely sensual and romantic way. It was written in verse and the poetry struck her as sublime. She turned the pages, on each one she was met by a similar but uniquely exquisite picture and accompanying verse, each one drawn by hand, each one gilded, painted in the finest details. She found herself entranced, unable to look away.

"And what have you there, Miss Granger?"

She reeled in shock and horror, turning her back on the book but unable in her confusion to shut it.

Malfoy was standing a few feet away, a look of haughty curiosity on his face.

"It's nothing - I just thought I'd better take a look in case ..."

Hermione was trying to hide the book behind her but knew how obvious her discomfort was. Malfoy glanced over her shoulder and she saw a brief flicker of awareness pass across his features.

"The Book of Desire."

She swallowed. Her belly churned in embarrassment. He moved his eyes to hers. Her discomfort worsened.

"Intriguing, Miss Granger. Are you in the habit of reading such books?"

"No! I just ... it was just ... I happened to ..."

"As I recall, that book was kept on a very remote shelf. It is not associated in any way with the Dark Arts. Quite the opposite in fact. It is about love, desire ... passion. It should be of no interest to you."

"I'm sorry. I didn't know what it was. It just looked very beautiful. I thought it may be significant."

He was walking towards her all the time. Hermione's skin was alight. Her mind reeled and she gripped the table behind her to steady herself. Malfoy was now beside her and was looking down at the book open on the table.

"This book has been in my family for many generations."

She was surprised by how calm he sounded. They had discussed things of intellectual curiosity before. Why not now? Calming herself a little, she turned around to look at it with him, quickly turning the page to an image that was not so explicit. Still, it depicted a couple in an ardent embrace, although at least this time there were no obvious bodily parts on display.

Hermione's academic interests soon overrode her embarrassment and she found herself discussing it with confidence. A detailed conversation would at least take her mind off other things.

"The illumination is exquisite. I have only ever seen religious texts of this kind before. This is quite extraordinary. Is it a magical book? I can see no reference to magic in it."

"There are few obvious spells or references to potions or suchlike, but it is still at heart a magical text. The magic is contained in the fulfilment of the verses." He paused briefly before continuing low. "If one achieves the purest sexual union through the words, one will realise the deepest magic."

She blushed scarlet at his words and lowered her head, unable to speak. At length, she said hesitantly, "I wasn't sure it was magical because the pictures don't move."

"Yes, they do."

She looked up. "But ..."

In her mind she was picturing his hand on hers in the kitchen.

"This book is to be shared. It will only reveal all its secrets when read by two people who could be joined in physical union." He turned to stare down at her, his cool grey eyes burning into hers. "This is a book for lovers, Miss Granger."

Hermione found herself unable to look away, the ache which had nagged at her insides since he had walked into the room shifting somewhat into something else, something she could no longer deny, but dared not admit, the same feeling she had experienced in his kitchen, only now magnified intensely. She averted her eyes swiftly.

She could feel his presence tall and vital beside her, feel the heat emanating from his person. Her breathing grew rapid and shallow. She thought he would go, hoped he would, needed him to. He did not.

"Place your hand on the image, Miss Granger."

She had never heard his voice so calm, so smooth. She had no hesitation in doing as he bid. Her fingers came out and touched the thick parchment, feeling its warm, smooth texture under them. And then she watched, mesmerised, frozen, as he moved his own hand towards hers.

She wanted it again. It had felt so good before. She admitted it now.

At last, his long, strong fingers reached atop her hand and slid slowly down between her knuckles until his palm rested completely on top, his fingers in between hers. She inhaled sharply.

Immediately the image on the page came to life. The couple moved and swayed in the deepest throws of passion, their arms clutching, stroking along the other, their kiss ardent and longing. Hermione had never seen such a sensuous depiction of love. It took her breath away. Her eyes remained lowered, staring down at what was before her. But after a while, her gaze was not directed at the picture, but at the large hand placed firmly over hers. She felt the smooth skin, detected the strength contained in the long fingers, just as she had before. She could not prevent herself moving her hand under his a little, reinforcing his touch. He did not flinch away.

"It's so beautiful," she whispered out, at last looking up at him.

He held her gaze. "Yes."

They continued to lock eyes. Hermione could detect none of the animosity, none of the malice which had previously been contained in his. Instead, his eyes were alight, staring deep into her soul. Again, she could hardly breathe.

And then, with a sharp inhalation, Malfoy pulled his hand away and stood back from her.

"There we are. I suggest you replace the book now, Miss Granger. It is of no use to your work."

Hermione swayed. The sudden removal of his hands and the breaking of the moment made her reel. She looked down, mumbling, "Of course."

Still, he did not move. She raised her head slowly back to him. He now looked confused, distressed even. He glanced across at her. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could utter a word, he had swept out of the room, shutting the door loudly behind him.

Hermione staggered, falling against the table for support. One hand came up to hold her forehead; she was so dizzy. She slumped into the chair. The book was still open before her, the image that had been moving so sensuously moments before now still.

She reached over and placed her hand on it once again. Nothing happened. But her hand remained there. She stared hard at it, picturing, feeling his hand clasping it, his long fingers resting in between hers, his smooth palm pressing down onto her.

What had sent the thrill coursing through her so violently? Had it been the image on the page? His hand atop hers?

Or the coming together of both - emotional and physical.

She pulled her hand away and shut the book quickly.

The Book of Desire.

The title stared out of her, daring her to acknowledge the truth of her reaction.

She pressed her fingers into her eyes, rubbing them hard, as if to wipe out the feelings and images that were raging through her.

She could not. In her mind, Malfoy was standing so close to her as to infuse her with his heat and aroma, his hand was pressing down on hers, the illustration before them moving, two lovers embracing, caressing, kissing, feeling each other.

Her eyes remained tightly shut, and then the image in her mind changed. His hand moved up from hers, running up her arm, then crossing to her waist, encircling it - those long, strong fingers so warm and tactile on her smooth body. His other hand was up at her neck, stroking her hair away from her neck, before his head lowered, down, down to that needy flesh at the rise of her throat.

Hermione jerked her eyes open, grabbed the book, mounted the ladder so fast she nearly fell and replaced it firmly in the gap it had vacated.

Then returning to her things, she gathered them quickly and practically ran from the room. She raced down the stairs but before she could reach the bottom, Malfoy had stepped out of the sitting room, almost blocking her path to the door.

"I have to go. I had forgotten I have a meeting to get to."

She almost pushed past him in her attempt to get to the door. She did not look up.

"When will you be back?" His voice sounded apprehensive.

"I don't know ... I have other things to do."

She opened the door.

"But you will return?" She could not deny that he now sounded almost fearful. Hermione at last turned to look at him. His tall nobility still dominated the hallway, but his eyes stared at her with an almost painful intensity.

Despite reason telling her to run, get out, hide from these feelings tormenting her very soul, at that moment all she wanted was to rush over to him, reassure him ... embrace him ...

"Of course." Her words were all she had. She knew she could not stay away. "Tomorrow. I'll come back tomorrow."

Suddenly her hasty retreat seemed ridiculous. She wanted to stay. He wanted her to stay.

But her mind needed time. She would give herself space. That was best.

With a final look back at him, she smiled weakly and left, shutting the door hard behind her.

Lucius Malfoy stood in the hallway, wringing his hands together, hands which earlier had touched ...

The emptiness of the house consumed him suddenly and desperately. He cursed it. Cursed himself.

Cursed the Mudblood.

Why did she have to leave so suddenly?

He knew why. She was struggling as much as he.

He questioned himself. Stuggling? With what was he struggling?

The strange tension he felt in his core, the tension that eased somewhat when she was around, tightened viciously, and in an attempt to release it, he cried out, loud and hard, the noise rising violently into the darkness around him.

Why had she ever come here? He knew it would lead only to misery.

But he had not expected this oppressive misery, this niggling torture which was eating away at him.

Clenching his fists hard, he strode back to the sitting room, almost colliding with Grimble on the way back.

"You fool! Watch where you are going!"

"I am sorry, Master. I came to see if you were alright. I heard a strange noise."

"Yes, yes. Do not listen in on matters that do not concern you, Grimble!" he spat to his house-elf.

"My humbles apologies, Master Lucius." The elf bowed a little, then glanced around the hallway. "Has the Granger woman gone?"

"Yes." Lucius could hardly bring himself to say it.

"Rather early for her, isn't it?"

He almost struck the elf but instead drew himself up and marched past him, shouting over his shoulder, "It is of no matter. Fetch me two bottles of the Talbot from the cellar, no - three. Make it quick."

He strode into the sitting room and slammed the door behind him, leaving his elf sneering alone in the hall.

Malfoy paced the sitting room. Why had she had to find that damned book? He had not seen it for years. He'd almost forgotten it was in the house. And yet he had known it as soon as he had seen it. Known what it was, what it did.

He had not hesitated in revealing its secrets to her.

He had wanted to.

He had wanted to touch her again, he knew that now. And to touch her while faced with those images and what they stirred in the body ...

He sat abruptly and let his head fell back. The heat from the fire poured into his limbs.

Where was the damned elf with his wine?!

He flicked his wand and Schubert's String Quintet drifted around him again. But it didn't soothe as it should have done; its fragile chords now merely added to his dismay.

Curse her!

How dare she force her way into his mind as she had?

Her voice, her conversation - he could no longer deny that he enjoyed it, missed it when it was denied him.

Her curiosity, her acceptance of him ...

Yes, she had accepted him. Accepted him when all others had not.

He closed his eyes, hearing her voice once more, seeing her face before him, looking up with such warm delight when the image on the page began to move.

Her face ... her eyes, her lips ... her hands ...

The door opened and Grimble entered with the wine.

"Fool! Did no one ever tell you to knock!?"

"I am sorry, Master. I hadn't realised I was disturbing anything."

Malfoy sneered, about to speak, then shut his mouth again rapidly.

Grimble placed the bottles before Malfoy, who immediately poured himself a large glass.

"Leave me."

Grimble inclined his head and started to go. Just before he reached the door, he turned back to his master and said with a teasing sneer, "I was wondering, sir - will Miss Granger be staying the night again?"

There was a frozen silence. Malfoy slowly and coldly turned in his chair to fix his house elf with the iciest glare Grimble had ever encountered.

"Get out."

This time, the elf did not hesitate.

A Great Task of Solitude

A Harry Potter Story
by Laurielove

Part 7 of 27

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